Lawmakers introduce results and sunset bill

Lawmakers today introduced White House-crafted legislation that would create two commissions to examine the efficacy of federal programs and agencies.

The Government Reorganization and Program Performance Improvement Act of 2005 would authorize the creation of a standing "Sunset Commission" that would review federal agencies and programs once every 10 years and recommend changes. If lawmakers did not vote to continue a program or an agency, its funding – not just its authorization – would automatically cease.

The act would also allow Congress to approve "Results Commissions" proposed by the executive branch to recommend structural changes around particular policy areas, including proposing the reorganization of agencies. Under the proposal, the president would send commission-based recommendations to Congress for expedited consideration, meaning that Congress could only vote yes or no, without adding amendments.

“This is not an anti-government initiative, it’s a pro-government initiative,” said Rep. Tom Davis, (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee. The goal is to make agencies perform more efficiently and to retire programs that are no longer needed, supporters say.

Both sides of the political aisle should support the proposal “because everybody wants government to work,” said Clay Johnson, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget. State experience with sunset commissions illustrates that the pressure of an upcoming review usually ends up improving existing programs so few actually get canceled, he said.

Congress is involved in new programs, said Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.). “We rarely, if ever, take a look at programs to see how they’re working.” Thomas is sponsoring the legislation in the Senate, while on the House side, members have split the proposal into a sunset bill and a results commission bill.

“Every agency that succeeds ought to be able to justify its existence to taxpayers today,” Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said. “There are no sacred cow – every agency must show that they are efficient.”

Brady, who has pushed for a sunset commission for nearly a decade, is introducing the White House sunset bill and is also reintroducing his own similar proposal. Brady’s sunset proposal cleared the House floor last year by a vote of 272 to 140. Rep. Jon Porter (R-Nev.) is introducing the results commission language with Davis as a co-sponsor.

That history makes it likely that the House will pass at least the results commission bill this year, Davis said. House leadership also supports the bill, he added. Brady’s bill differs in the composition of the commission, which would consist of members of Congress under his version and of political appointees under the White House language.

Congressional sponsors stressed that both commissions under consideration would be bipartisan. The administration calls for seven-member bodies in both the sunset and results commissions, two members being appointed in consultation with the minority party in Congress. The other two would be selected by the congressional majority party, and the remaining three by the president, meaning that one political party would likely control five commission seats.

But the commissions’ recommendations “don’t break down along partisan lines,” Davis said. The bill makes sure that the minority party is involved with the process from the beginning, he added.

The White House proposal also exempts commission members from strictures of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which some critics have said would allow the administration to appoint lobbyists to the commission.

“We just want the best people available,” Davis said. “At the end of the day, they’re not making policy, all they’re making is recommendations,” which the president can ignore or change when forwarding the final recommendations to Congress.

Following the advisory act would be time consuming, he added. The results commission has only nine months before it statutorily expires.

“For what it’s worth, the Bush administration, I don’t believe, has ever appointed a lobbyist to any commission,” Johnson said.

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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